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Thursday, September 6, 2018

Dave Eggers' What Can a Citizen Do?


I love Dave Eggers, and when I saw he was releasing a children's book, What Can a Citizen Do?, illustrated by Shawn Harris, at Book Expo, I absolutely stood in line for his autograph. He made it out to my son, so that he will know that he is a citizen and there are so many things that he can do.

He can do so many things -- join causes, write letters, build things, stand up for beliefs, do kind things for others. The key is that a citizen must be engaged and they must be part of their society. Do things to help others regardless of who they are and what they need. After all, we never know the battles that others are fighting. Being a part of something is bigger than me and you -- we are citizens.

Where to start with this lovely piece of work that I love so much that I might not let my son touch it before his 18th birthday? Or, you know what, since his prefrontal cortex doesn't finish developing until he's in his mid-20's, he can't touch it until then which is fine because I wasn't about to let him out of the house anyway. But since I want him to be a good citizen, maybe I should take everything in this paragraph back and send him out into the world.

I love the sentiment of this book, and the poem itself is just wonderful and lovely. That the thrust of the book is to be a good citizen, which means recognizing that there is injustice in the world and that it is your job to fix it, is not just a sweet and ambitious idea, but it's the reality of our current circumstances. I have heard for years from parents of small children then they can do their part by teaching their children to love everyone, and the reality of that idea is that it's privileged, uninspired, and missing what is required to be an active, meaningful citizen. In order to teach our children to be citizens we must make explicit for them how to be good citizens -- caring for others, finding the helpers (thanks, Mr. Rogers!), being the helpers, giving of your time and your talents in any way that you can, and standing up for what is right. It is not enough just to love others -- oh sure, it's sweet -- but we must also teach our children to be active.

That is what is at the heart of this gorgeously illustrated, deeply worded book for young people. May my son always know that he must be a citizen.


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